Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin: book review
Overview: Aviva Grossman always had her eye towards the political arena, so it seems like fate that she has a tangential connection that lands her an internship with her local Congressman during her college years. But, even as Aviva thrives with the work, everything falls apart when she kisses the Congressman, and suddenly everything she's built is in jeopardy. The media rips her apart, and her life is over before she's even started. This book follows Aviva in her youth and in her forties, her mother, her daughter, and the Congressman's wife's across all their messy intersections that come together to tell the story of Aviva Grossman's life. Overall: 3.5
Characters: 3 The character archetypes are interesting enough, and there are some compelling relationships, but the final execution does ultimately make everyone feel pretty flat. For example, Aviva gains depth as we see her as a grown-up and then go back in time to read her diary at the time of the affair, but that section is hard to read because somehow the book is entirely fixated on discussing her "giant boobs" and how they've caused every major event in her life. It's a little ridiculous. Actually, it's a lot ridiculous, and there are a lot of these little motifs that think they're doing something but are only hindering the characters. Stereotypes abound.
The character building moments that are the most successful are the mother-daughter stories that develop. Zevin captures the immense pain on both parts where incidents strain an extremely close relationship, and she does a good job of finding layers of complexity within.
I actually think it's Aviva's mother who receives the best development of anyone. She loves her daughter, but she also values appearances to an extreme degree. Her husband has cheated on her for years, but she doesn't care enough to ruin her image by divorcing him. She weathers storms in her friendships, and she sometimes comes up short. At one point, Aviva notes that her best friend was her mom, and her mom's best friend was Roz Horowitz, and that kind of summarization of character is the best of what the book has to offer.
Plot: 4 There's a reason I kept reading this book, and it's the plot, which is is something I rarely say. The book weaves through time but centers around Aviva, her scandal, her growth from that, and how she faces life when the news comes back around to invade the perfect life she's built away from it. We see the situation from a multitude of angles, and each perspective adds both new information and new ways to see how and why it happened. People are attached to the scandal on the news because it's juicy drama, and that's why the book is fun to read. It never quite finds the depth it needs to sparkle, but the story is interesting enough as it is.
Writing: 3 I truly don't understand the writing in this book. Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow has such absolutely beautiful prose, and while every book is its own thing and it was published a while after this book's release, I'm truly amazed at how different the sentence level writing is here. It's a bit clunky, it relies on a lot of crutches, and the dialogue is so incredibly stilted. Everyone talks in a weird, extremely formal way, which might make sense for one character, but when all of them speak in the same strange way, it feels like a discomfort with writing dialogue.
The weirdest choice has to be writing the last section of the book, the big reveal, in second person. There's a reason why your fourth grade English teacher told you about second person but then said no one uses it in fiction. It's extremely hard not to make it seem ridiculous (though I recently read a book that did manage this exquisitely, so it is possible). It feels jarring to introduce this at the last minute, and it's hard to tell what it's accomplishing aside from the fact that Zevin also confusingly decided to write this section in the style of a choose your own adventure book where the choices were already made. It just felt like trying too hard in all the wrong places. The book came off underdeveloped sentence to sentence, and that ended up impacting the characters and the foundation of the story. I think this probably marks the end of my quest into Zevin's back catalogue.
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